Monday, November 15, 2010

New NATO. Same as the Old NATO

NATO has a new role that reflects its original role. It is a role apart from the long duty NATO had of defending NATO from the Soviet Union. I don't understand why so many people want to write off NATO.

Sure, Russia isn't about to march to the Rhine since they lost their Cold War Soviet empire, but they could march part way there to restore at least some of their lost empire. That alone is worth guarding against (especially if you are on the eastern edge of NATO). But even apart from the alliance's role in defending Europe from Russia (or even other threats as NATO does in Afghanistan--even if not as much help as we'd like), NATO kept Germany down. You'll recall the the witticism of NATO keeping the Americans in, the Russians out, and Germany down?

Well, it is about more than keeping Germany down. After two wars in the 20th century centered around Germany, it was easy to blame Germany; but it is really all of Europe that has a history of energetic warfare. The formation of the European Union recognizes this violent past, even if the Brussels overlords mistakenly blame the people of Europe for this history of bloodshed.

On the question of NATO itself, the conventional wisdom is that the alliance is obsolete. With the future of NATO and American leadership in doubt, the Europeans are restoring old thought patterns of power politics, as this article mentions:

But there was a Britain before there was a global America. The pivot toward Russia represents the reemergence of an older pattern: one in which Britain used continental alliances to maintain a regional balance of power. Britain and France have tempered their courting of Russia with a new bilateral defense pact between the two of them, concluded last week. As NATO dismantles its raison d’etre, the old fault lines of alliance and wagon tracks of diplomacy reappear. The factors in why France and Britain made this agreement, but Germany is not part of it, are the same ones that obtained before there was a NATO or a global America: some alliance is necessary, but a tripartite pact with Germany would alarm Russia too much.

Germany, naturally, prefers to retain a privileged central position anyway; for Berlin, the right note was struck with Angela Merkel’s participation in October’s three-way talks with Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev. But Germany is deeply embedded in Russia’s oil and natural gas empire too. The Germans have their own growing ties to Russia.

We don't want a post-America Europe. Some years back I commented on a fairly recent French outreach to Turkey (darned if I can't find the post), which I thought reflected French actions in their earlier history to seek allies against potential European enemies. This was part of the traditional practices of dealing with powerful nations too close geographically to be fully trusted. So nations hedged their bets with alliances with other nearby nations and nations on the periphery of core Europe such as Russia and Turkey.

For a while during the Cold War, the distant America proved to be an ideal ally. We were too distant to be a threat and powerful enough to smother intra-European violent rivalries. The Soviet threat obviously helped to paper over traditional internal divisions.

Remember, NATO began in 1949 as a political organization with little defense capabilities. The Korean War prompted real efforts to create a military capability to defend NATO states against the Soviet threat. It wasn't until we allowed Germany to stand up a real army in the mid-1950s that our conventional capabilities started to match the threat.

So don't make the mistake of thinking that NATO's only purpose is to defend against an external threat. Without a Russian threat, NATO with a strong American role still has a political reason to exist by keeping internal European divisions tamped down. Does anyone really think we could escape the effects of a Europe that returns to a history of violence? That alone is worth the price of maintaining a so-called obsolete alliance.

A post-America Europe would look an awful lot like the pre-America Europe. If we continue to retreat from our leadership role, we'll see more Entente Cordiales, Triple EntentesPacts of Steel, Triple Alliances, and Central Powers in the future. (Heck, the Russians already believe they are resisting a new Cordon Sanitaire with NATO expansion eastward--and they're kind of right, although I think it is justified to keep a vacuum from forming that Russia might try to enter.) They'll have names that sound all warm and fuzzy, I'm sure, but the outlines of military alliances will be clear.

As a bonus, perhaps a NATO that restores its political role will deprive the gathering European Union of oxygen as it attempts to create what NATO once was--a political alliance, but without the EU problem of evolving to a single state (or empire, in this case). Without America, the EU risks becoming a USSR Lite, as far as I'm concerned (and maybe not so "lite" in the long run).

A NATO alliance with a strong American role would be far better for all of us. We still need NATO with a strong American commitment to the alliance.